Matt and Cat\'s Isle of Wight Eating Out Guide
This is an archive review. El Toro Contento has closed.  Matt and Cat welcome all suggestions for new venues so keep ’em coming! On...
This is an archive review. El Toro Contento has closed. 
Paella at El Toro Contento

Matt and Cat welcome all suggestions for new venues so keep ’em coming! On this site’s well-populated ‘suggest a venue‘ page have been two requests for M and C to review El Toro Contento Tapas Bar, Ventnor. So, on a beautiful sunny Easter Sunday, they paid a visit.

Having built up an appetite photographing the famous Ventnor wall lizards and with their breakfast of Easter eggs wearing off, Matt and Cat squeezed into the small but welcoming tapas bar. The atmosphere seemed genuinely Spanish, as was the chef who briefly greeted Matt and Cat before retreating into the kitchen. The very friendly lady behind the bar explained how tapas works, and made some suggestions.

Tapas is a bit of an unexplored food genre for your reviewers – apart from a brief and frankly underwhelming ‘meal’ of three miserable anchovies and a plate of half a dozen olives in a trendy tapas bar on the mainland some years ago. Despite this off-putting experience, Matt was keen to give tapas another go, and Cat was very hungry.

Ham on the bone!

Ham on the bone!

With tapas, patrons order several small dishes and combine them for a full meal. El Toro Contento offered a good selection on both the set menu and the diverse specials board, from which could be chosen dishes containing black pasta, squid, wild potatoes and prawns – surely something for everyone? The main menu was in Spanish with helpful translations enabling the linguistically-challenged Matt and Cat to make an informed choice of:

  • garbanzos con espinacas (chickpeas with spinach)
  • tortilla de patatas (Spanish potato omelette)
  • patatas bravas (wild potatoes)
  • linguini (black pasta) with mushroom and cheese sauce
  • stuffed squid in tomato sauce with langoustine

Deciding to immerse themselves in the tapas bar experience, they also chose the house speciality, an unnamed West African drink made with fresh ginger, lemon juice and muscovado sugar. Matt thought this zesty brew was deliciously refreshing, but alas Cat pulled her special face when tasting the very gingery concoction – contortions usually reserved for sipping beer or licking raw lemons. The lady behind the bar very kindly swapped the ginger drink for a more palatable Coke, at no extra charge – luckily for Cat the wind didn’t change during the substitution!

Whilst waiting for the little dishes of food, Matt and Cat were presented with a basket of pana con tomate – bread with tomato sauce. Tapping their toes to the north African music, they looked around the venue with its interesting map of Spain, bullfighting posters and gigantic ham, complete with trotter!

Before long, their freshly-cooked dishes arrived, served on one big compartmentalised platter, apart from the linguini, which had a plate of its own. Certainly a vast improvement on Matt and Cat’s previous meagre tapas experience!

Tapas in Ventnor

The eclectic array of dishes were all delicious in their own way. The potatoes were lovely and spicy, the linguini’s sauce had the perfect balance of cheese and mushrooms, and the squid was textured and fishy without being rubbery and unpleasant. The fresh little salad contained lettuce, olives, radish and tomatoes and the omelette boasted local eggs. The tapas was surprisingly filling for a food concept that was originally given for free to accompany a drink before lunch or dinner in Spain.

Having enjoyed their meal, Matt and Cat decided to stay for dessert and coffee; Matt opted for idiazábal con membrillo (Basque cheese with quince jelly), and Cat played it safe with a panellet – a small Catalan almond and pine nut cake. Matt, a cheese aficionado, favoured the slightly nutty cheese, describing it as a cross between Leerdammer and Parmesan.

Having spent a relaxing hour or so in the bar, Matt and Cat settled up. Tapas isn’t particularly cheap; the cost of the small dishes soon adds up and there isn’t really enough in a single dish to satiate one’s appetite. But it’s worth it: the quality and taste of the food was very good. El Toro Contento Tapas Bar has a great atmosphere and, with its concept of dish-sharing, is ideal for a real social occasion. It is highly recommended.
El Toro Contento Tapas Bar, Ventnor

  • Mr Brew says:

    Hello, could any of our knowledgeable diners suggest where (or whether) I may still be able to get fresh lobster on the Southern side of the Island come this early October? I would be much appreciative for this information.
    With thanks,
    The Brewster.

    Matt and Cat respond:
    lots of places. Ventnor Haven Fishery respond to us on Twitter and say: “we will have plenty and so will all of the places we supply across the island.”

  • Peter Kirchem says:

    Great meal there tonight. Great ambience, nice people and not too expensive. Actually I agree with tien about the bread .. a bit boring!

  • Salt&Pepper says:

    We visited end of January 2012. I had built up a high expectation due to local reviews and recommendations, and we were waiting for a good opportunity to visit. A friend from the mainland popped over, perfect excuse to show off what Ventnor has to offer! Being a fan of foods from foreign lands, this was my moment to experience something abit different on the Isle of Wight.

    We were very disappointed. Music was clanky, the atmosphere was tense (it didnt help that the table adjacent to us were argueing!) and the ambience was unusual. On a positive note, there was plenty to offer on the menu that seemed vaguely “spainish”, sadly the back of the menu deflated any enthusiasim with digs at anyone who smoked and ate chips (not that we do either, but still!) It contains cancer causing chemicals – as if we did’nt know that already. We placed our order, gave back our menus (that could do with new spines and sleeves) and waited eagerly for our dishes to arrive. After hearing (and reading) great reports on the home-made Sangria, a jug arrived that was just souless and overpriced. Dishes arrived.. oh dear. Flavourless, uninspiring, and tasted bought in. For the amount of dishes we ordered and the jug of Sangria, the bill itself was reasonable. However, we left feeling disappointed, and our heads hung low.

  • Robin says:

    Ate lunch here last week – olives, bread, homemade chicken liver pate from the specials board, allioli, embutidos and a glass of Estrella. All excellent, and good value in our opinion.

    Have eaten plenty of tapas in Spain and the food here could certainly compete with the native stuff.

  • Sarah James says:

    I can never get enough of El Toro. I would have it for breakfast, lunch and dinner if I was allowed. And the bill is always a very pleasant surprise.

  • Nina says:

    Went here last night, we hadn’t booked but it wasn’t a problem they gave us a table upstairs in the window. the service was fantastic and the place was really busy with only 2 waiting staff. My friend and I had a selection of dishes off the specials board and menu (the scallops were the best I’ve ever eaten) we ordered 2 dishes at a time and all came in good time, fresh and tasting lovely. We had 10 dishes, bread & olives and soft drinks, we were shocked and pleased when our bill came at £38!
    Great atmosphere, authentic & brilliant value for money

  • Fran says:

    Popped in today on the off chance and had a wonderful tapas lunch. We all thoroughly enjoyed the hake, spanish omelette, stuffed peppers and squid. Super array of dishes that had something for everyone. Very friendly service. We will be back.

  • Sue says:

    Great little place, lovely food & friendly hosts. Visited twice during our holiday in September and will definitely go again next time we’re on the island. Booking recommended as it is only a small restaurant but this adds to the atmosphere.

  • Colin says:

    It is our favourite eating place in Ventnor and have been a number of times. The food is always good especially the specials. They have a gem of waitress – Nell who really adds to the enjoyment. Very good value

  • Annonymous says:

    P.S your food is AMAZING and well priced altough my favourite has to be the spicy potatoes.

  • Alan says:

    We had a really nice meal in there last night and the staff were very friendly and helpful. Good value for money and we will certainly go back again

  • HC says:

    We turned up in Ventnor late on a Friday night and went out optimistic only of buying food in Somerfield. Not so! We ventured into the Tapas bar and received a warm and friendly welcome. We ordered 8 dishes for 2 adults and 2 hungry and adventurous children and found this to be ample. The food was also very delicious. We had Octopus, we had cod, we had prawns, mushrooms, olives… Our children were desperate for a return visit and we were not at all objectionable.

  • Mike B says:

    We had dinner at El Toro Contento last Friday evening having booked a table in advance. The place was packed but the service was still excellent and the food superb. We had five dishes including prawns; calamari; potatoes; white beans with chorizo and black pudding; and Serrano ham. All were very tasty and well-prepared and the prawns were so good we ordered a second portion. The hosts are great and our waitress was an absolute gem.
    Will definitely eat there again when next in Ventnor. Highly recommended.

  • Tim says:

    We went there last year and thought it to be a bit of a mixed bag. Of the six dishes we ordered half were good but the other half were really awlful with very suspect ingredients.

    Having said that Ventnor has improved tremendously in the last couple of years and I would like to see matt and cat visit the Pond Cafe, which is outstanding, the Richmond on the sea front which was always good but is now revamped and excellent and the tapas bar on the sea front which although not spanish is overall better food and value than El Toro. Oh, and the Bonchurch Inn is fantastic too.

    Matt and cat – you seem to have missed the good ones!

    Matt and Cat respond:
    Hi Tim. Thanks for your comments. Out of the five venues that you mention we have been to four of them: El Toro Contento, the Ale and Oyster (what was the Richmond), the Met (the tapas bar on the seafront), and the Bonchurch Inn.

    We’ve had plenty of people suggest that we visit the Pond Cafe – it’s certainly on our list!

  • Mike 46 says:

    Been to 3 IOW eateries this week and I have to say all have failed in my view.

    First the Island Deli in Ventnor. Supposed to be iow grown, if so then it’s a poor advert for the iow. The soup,for instance was totally bland.

    The same comment is made about the George in Newport.

    The Fountain in Cowes is not much better.

  • Zoe says:

    We (me and my husband, brother and his wife and 4 children)went to El Toro’s earlier this month (Jan 2009)and had a very enjoyable evening. The food was delicious, we had a number of items from both the specials board and the menu and ordered seconds of a few of the dishes because they were so good. The wine was also excellent. We sat downstairs in the newly opened part, which was a bit rustic, but adds to the charm of the place. Will be returning soon, and hopefully will try the Paella(which you have to pre-order)

  • Wendy says:

    Went in here recently for the first time and had the spicy pumpkin soup from the specials board, which was tasty and warming, just the right level of spiciness (served with fresh bread) – £3.50. Ian had butter beans and chorizo (also served with bread) for £4.90, which he found delicious. The lady serving was very friendly and food arrived quickly. I don’t know what it’s like for a full-on dinner, but for a snack it was good.

    At that time of day (mid-afternoon) it felt like a community café; got the impression others there were regulars.

    The Christmas Day feast menu sounded intriguing: suckling pig for meat-eaters; cabbage stuffed with nuts & all sorts for vegetarians, plus lots of other bits and pieces.

  • Diner says:

    Visited here for the first time recently and am totally unimpressed! The food was frankly vile and the service from the elder of the 2 women who served us was not much better, she was unessessarily rude and not at all welcoming. We also had stale bread and had to wait over 15 mins before we got a drink. Overall a dreadful experience!

  • Geoff says:

    We went on 26/08 and really enjoyed our meal. Excellent chicken dish, although the artichokes were a bit of a let down. As the meal cost under £40 for 2 including the world’s largest dish of olives to start, 4 main courses, two puddings, a glass of wine, glass of cider and 2 coffees and don’t see where Cupcake gets ‘overpriced dishes’from.

    We’ll be back

  • Flump says:

    Not sure if cupcake went to same place as us. Excellent food and atmosphere, well cooked and well priced. A good night out.

  • Steve & De says:

    A lovely meal. Good quality ingredients with sardines clear eyed and fresh, real meat meatballs. Tortilla a real treat. Friendly service. Good value for money. I agree that bread needs more variety though.

  • cupcake says:

    At first we were so excited when they opened-sadly a combination of overpriced dishes made from not the best ingredients (Somerfield seems a main supplier closely followed by Lidl) has really let it down. This combined with the very un tapas bar hours (arrived just before 9 and told it was to late) and not open on Sunday’s.

  • Les Tergit says:

    We thoroughly enjoyed are on-holiday visit to El Toro.

    We arrived unannounced on a Friday early evening to find the place fully reserved. But, the excellent hosts managed to squeeze us in without making is feel as if we were in a rush to vacate the table for the next shift.

    Food was excellent, one minor gripe – I would like to have seen more variety in the accompanying breads.

    All in all, highly recommended

  • tien says:

    This is our all time favouite restaurant in ventnor and we need no excuse to go there whenever we can. The specials board is what we go for, it is suitably seasonal and keeps the menu always interesting and fresh. Once in a while, every item on the special board hits gold, and we all melt in delight.

    This is a rare restaurant that leaves you craving for more if you stay away for too long. We felt the portion is reasonable when the dishes comes in its own dishes, but because the table is small, they normally bring out a sectioned platter, which stinges on portions. They are expanding in April and we look forward to visiting the result, shame they can’t move the somerfield!

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